Australian A-Leagues club Melbourne Victory has said that it is "devastated" and issued a formal apology after its fans forced the abandonment of a clash with local rivals Melbourne City by staging a violent pitch invasion, an incident which Football Australia has promised will lead to "strong sanctions."
Planning on staging a joint-walkout in the 20th minute to protest league administrators the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) decision to sell hosting rights to the leagues' men's and women's grand finals to Sydney for the next three years, both City and Victory fans began throwing flares onto the AAMI Park playing surface before they made their exits, with one appearing to hit a camera operator for broadcaster Network Ten.
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Fans had already ignited flares and small fireworks throughout the preceding 20 minutes, with City fans hurling a number of projectiles onto the pitch in celebration of Aiden O'Neill's 11th-minute opener.
The missiles hurled in the 20th minute, however, kick-started a spiralling series of events that saw City goalkeeper Tom Glover, attempting to clear a projectile that had landed near him off the field, throw a flare off the pitch and back into the Victory supporters. This then led to a host of fans storming onto the pitch in scenes reminiscent of the violence between Nice and Marseille in 2021.
As fans converged on his position, Glover was hit in the head by a metal bucket filled with sand designed to extinguish flares hurled in his direction. He was rushed from the pitch by teammates with blood coming from the side of his head.
Referee Alex King also suffered a gash to the head from the thrown bucket, while the game's referee coach was pushed into the fence. A Football Australia spokesperson described King as being more shaken than hurt, and he and his fellow officials were escorted to their cars by security to exit the stadium.
City officials said that Glover needed stitches and had a suspected concussion after the incident.
In a statement, Victory said that it was devastated by the incident and that it unequivocally condemned the actions of its supporters that invaded the pitch.
"The club would like to formally apologise to Tom Glover, match official, Alex King and the camera operator as well as all players, officials and those who witnessed the appalling behaviour," it said.
Both sets of players and coaching staffs, as well as the match officials, quickly made their way off the field as the pitch invasion continued; the fans who remained on the surface turning their focus to attacking the sponsor boards and goals before being marshalled off the field by members of Victoria Police's Public Order Response Team.
After a lengthy delay, the match was abandoned to ensure player safety, the first time that an A-Leagues fixture has been called off for such a reason.
In a statement, Victoria Police said that approximately 150-200 Victory supporters stormed the field, and confirmed the injuries to Glover and King, as well as the injuries suffered by the Network Ten cameraman when he was hit by a flare.
Police said that at this stage no arrests had been made, but investigations were ongoing.
"The Melbourne Victory fans who stormed the pitch, resulting in the assault of a player, a referee and a member of match day broadcast staff, should be subjected to the strongest possible sanctions," a statement from player's union Professional Footballers Australia said.
"We acknowledge the courage of players, club staff and referees who came to the aid of each other in circumstances that no one should ever be exposed to."
Demonstrations against the APL's decision had already occurred at the A-League Men and A-League Women games that had already taken place across the weekend, but all were of a peaceful nature.
Socceroo goalkeeper Danny Vukovic, who was a member of the squad in Qatar that made it to the World Cup round of 16, said on social media that Australian football was experiencing its "darkest day" in light of the events.
The A-Leagues are run independently from Football Australia, but the national federation remains the game's regulator and enforced a national code of conduct and referees; meaning that they will lead the investigation into and resulting sanctions from the pitch invasion. Its CEO James Johnson is set to address the media on Sunday morning.
"Such behaviour has no place in Australian Football, with a full Football Australia investigation to commence immediately, where strong sanctions to be handed down," a statement from the Federation read.
Speaking to ESPN, a Football Australia official confirmed that the organisation would use the "full force" of its regulatory and disciplinary powers regarding the incident and that members of the public had already come forward to assist them and Victoria Police with their investigation.